Why the Marine Transportation System (MTS) Matters

MTS Background

The Marine Transportation System consists of waterways, ports, and intermodal landside connections that allow various modes of transportation to move people and goods to, from, and on the water. The MTS includes the following:

  • 25,000 miles of navigable channels
  • 236 locks at 192 locations
  • The Great Lakes
  • The St. Lawrence Seaway
  • More than 3,700 marine terminals
  • Recreational marinas
  • More than 174,000 miles of rail connecting all 48 contiguous states, Canada, and Mexico
  • More than 45,000 miles of interstate highway, supported by over 115,000 miles of other roadways
  • More than 1,400 designated intermodal connections
MTS Fact Sheet
MTS Coordination

Important Facts

  • Waterborne cargo and associated activities contribute more than $649 billion annually in personal wage and salary income and local consumption expenditures, sustaining an estimated 13.3 million direct and indirect port-related jobs. For-hire water transportation comprises 63 thousand jobs
  • MTS activities contribute over $212 billion in annual port sector federal/state/local taxes
  • Over 29 million loaded TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent units) and 1.3 million metric tons of foreign traffic were handled in 2011, with a value of nearly $1.7 trillion
  • In 2011 75.0% by weight and 46.9% by value of U.S.-international merchandise trade was transported by water


The MTS faces many challenges. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation's Bureau of Transportation Statistics, the total value of marine freight is predicted to increase by 43% domestically and 67% internationally between 2010 and 2020. Ferry passenger transport is experiencing rapid growth in response to land-transport congestion. Commercial fishing and military use of the MTS are also expected to grow over the next several years. These increasing demands must be safely handled and balanced with environmental values in order to ensure that freight and people move efficiently to, from, and on the MTS.

MTS Challenges

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